CLEMSON - See, now this is where it gets really interesting.
When you wake up Sept. 21, Clemson fans, if your team is 1-2, you should feel disappointed. That's why you're fans; you should expect nothing less than greatness (or at least very-goodness) from your trusty team.
Be realistic, though: the way the schedule shakes out this year, knocking off either Georgia or Florida State on the road is gonna be a tough task (and beating both is a bear.) Nobody nationally is really going to think less of the Tigers if they've got a losing record after three games, which would be a first for the program since 2004.
If you didn't realize this about the schedule yet, though, you better recognize: no matter what happens before Clemson boards the plane in Tallahassee Sept. 20 or 21, the team has to flush it quickly for better or worse, because the season could definitively lay in the balance just one Saturday later.
North Carolina's being hyped. Again. Yeah, we've seen this movie before. But there might not be a more dangerous ACC team to visit Death Valley specifically in the wake of two very difficult road challenges in the opening four weeks of the season.
1-2 would be bad, if not par for this particular course. 1-3 would be devastating, and for all intents and purposes, a season-ender.
That's why Clemson better be well-stocked with Chaser Plus the last week in September; the Tigers simply can't have a hangover when the Tar Heels travel to Memorial Stadium for the second time in four years.
Game 4: No. 16* North Carolina at No. 22 Clemson, Sept. 27, time and TV TBD
North Carolina coach: Larry Fedora (15-10, 3rd season)
Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)
2013 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC; 5th ACC Coastal
Scoring offense: 32.7 points per game (43rd in FBS)
Scoring defense: 24.5 points allowed (43rd)
Series: Clemson leads 35-19-1, including 18-7 in Clemson
Last meeting: Clemson 59-38 in Death Valley (Oct. 22, 2011)
Golden Nugget line: Clemson by 4
Opposing beat writer to follow: @_AndrewCarter
Three things to know about North Carolina
1. Is THIS the year: 22 of 120 voters thought North Carolina would win the ACC Coastal; overall, the Heels were picked to finish third. They finished fifth in an eminently winnable division. (Then again, we picked Duke last; so what do we know?) Seems like each year, UNC is that frisky hey-they-could-break-out team in the summertime, before they go out and underachieve by the optimist's standard (or, perhaps, achieve perfectly in line with what the program's set up to do: make a bowl game, maybe win it, and not much else.) In the past six seasons, the Tar Heels have 24 ACC wins and 24 ACC losses; overall, they've had seven or eight wins, no more or fewer, all six years. So in 2014, as UNC fields some preseason top-20 love (ESPN, Phil Steele), are we to believe the Tar Heels are any different? This Athlon stat is notable: the Heels, 7-6 last year, were 1-6 against top-50 teams in the old BCS rankings.
2. Marquise the Man: Kind of like Georgia, UNC endured a season-ending injury to its senior starting quarterback, which really just gave the successor time to get some live reps before taking over the whole team in 2014. Marquise Williams, as a sophomore, was a bit more efficient than Bryn Renner; while Renner's 65.8 completion percentage was stronger, Williams produced more yards per attempt (7.8) and a better TD-INT ratio (15-6) than the guy who figured to compete for first-team all-ACC honors in July. Williams also was UNC's leading rusher with 536 yards and six touchdowns, so he's bound to have plenty of scrutiny from defensive coordinators in this offseason. He's aided by the return of receiving targets Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer, though second-team All-American tight end Eric Ebron left as a top-ten NFL Draft pick.
3. Their defense exists: Best descriptive word for the Tar Heels' defense: bleh. There's just not much good or bad to say about them: on the bright side, they've got a wave of tacklers (including Norkeithus Otis, owner of 14.5 TFLs last year and a first-team All-World name) and playmakers, but they're dreadful at stopping the run. Of course, Clemson fans will remember the Tigers hanging 59 on the Tar Heels, including an incredible 35-point third quarter. That day was a vintage Tajh Boyd day (367 passing yards, five TDs), but the Tigers had just 77 rushing yards, led by D.J. Howard's 25. Maybe Clemson will shade more toward the ground game in 2014 against UNC, with its last-ranked ACC rushing defense (182.4 yards allowed in 2013.)
Week before: @Florida State
Next week: N.C. State
On the horizon: Louisville
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